VICTORIA INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL KICKS OFF TOMORROW
The organising committee of the Victoria International Arts Festival, under the artistic direction of Prof Mro Joseph Vella, proudly announces the 11th edition of what has become Malta’s largest and longest-running festival on the islands. This year’s edition is a record-breaking one for no fewer than 32 concerts and cultural events will take place between Sunday 8 June and Monday 14 July. Patrons will be regaled with a colourful variety of concerts ranging from solo recitals, chamber ensembles, jazz groups, big bands, choirs, a dance evening, and orchestras. There will also be a literary evening, exhibitions, and master classes. VIAF was officially launched eleven years ago to herald the yearly feast of the patron saint of Gozo, St George in Victoria. The idea behind it was to give a sophisticated cultural dimension to one of Gozo’s biggest feasts. Prof Maurice Cauchi, a keen observer of the local scene, writing in The Times seven years ago, described the Festival as “a quiet revolution” and, indeed, over the years that is exactly what it has turned out to be. Little did the organisers imagine that it would grow into such a huge event that offers an equitable choice to suit different tastes and that attracts more than a thousand people to Gozo every year. The international status of the Festival is being enhanced year in year out, with performers from 15 different countries coming over this year to make music from as far as Armenia and as near as Sicily. More than 140 composers will be performed throughout the Festival.
The choral tradition at St George’s Basilica is something to write home about. Over the years, the Basilica has hosted a vast range of choral ensembles, including the world’s most famous choir La Cappella Sistina in April 2006. Every year, the organisers of the VIAF, themselves very closely associated with the Basilica’s resident Laudate Pueri Choir, make it a point to include traditional choral singing in its programme, always presented in the splendid environs of St George’s. This year’s edition kicks off in style with one such recital given by the St Mary’s College Chapel Choir, from the University of Durham on Sunday 8 June. As customary with English Chapel/Cathedral Choirs, the repertoire performed during this concert ranges from Renaissance masters such as Tye and Tallis to contemporary John Rutter and others. The choir will be under the direction of Ben Miller.
Music for brass ensembles has always proved popular with locals and foreigners alike. The first of such groups is the newly-formed Euphoric Horns Ensemble, a group that is fast making a good name for itself. The ensemble will be performing in Pjazzetta San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar on Tuesday 10th June. A second big band will be performing in St George’s Square on Monday 23 June. These are the immensely popular Versatile Brass Ensemble, led by its leader Paul Borg. Each year, this band lives up to its name by showing its extreme versatility in their chosen repertoire, ranging from pop, to rock, jazz, and semi-classical. The last Brass Ensemble for this year, the Big Band Brothers is led by Daniel Cauchi. They will be performing in Narrow Street on Wednesday 2 July.
As in previous editions, foreign participation is once again a very strong presence. Sicilian pianoforte duo Franco Foderà and Giovanna Mirrione will perform works stretching the whole gamut of the repertoire, from the Baroque composer Pachelbel to Charles Norton in the twentieth century. Another duo, this time from the Toscana region, are Marco Falaschi (Saxophone) and Marco Podestà, who will regale the audience with twentieth century works, including a sonata by Joseph Vella specifically written for this duo. The highly sophisticated Oden Ensemble for Contemporary Music from France is back with us to perform a concert of modern and contemporary music by Heiss, Villa-Lobos, Messiaen, Shostakovich, and Joseph Vella on Thursday 26 June. All the musicians in this ensemble play with the Paris Opera Orchestra. This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Italian opera’s best-loved composers, Giacomo Puccini. Soprano Andriana Jordanova, accompanied at the piano by the brilliant young Maltese pianist Joanna Camilleri, will give a vocal recital dedicated solely to a few of Puccini’s most memorable arias. This concert will be held on Saturday 28 June. French Violin and Pianoforte Duo Philip Bride and Nathalie Lanoë will be giving what promises to be a very exciting recital on Monday 30 June. Violinist Philip Bride is the Artistic Director of the famous Conservatoire of Marseille. Together with Ms Lanoë, herself a piano teacher at the same Conservatoire, will be interpreting works by Schubert, Brahms, and Franck. Another Pianoforte and Violin Duo, this time hailing from Rome, will be performing on Sunday 13 July. After last year’s hugely successful performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, violinist Marcello Canci, accompanied by Gabriele Campagna, will be giving a concert of works by Leclair, Franck, Dvořák, and Ravel. Another chamber group, this time the Austrian ASAG string quartet from Vienna, will be performing on Thursday 3 July. These four very promising, young musicians will be playing works by Haydn and Mendelssohn. Such is the brilliance of this young quartet that the Austrian Socio-Academic Consortium has loaned them each a rare and prestigious instrument to play on specifically for this concert. The Viennese participation continues on Friday 4 July, with a duo vocal recital by Soprano Elisabeth Freundlinger and Baritone Benno Schollum. This duo will be performing works mainly by Viennese composers, ranging from lieder to the evergreen Lehar operatta. They will be accompanied at the piano by Maria Frendo.
A pianoforte recital is always a strong crowd puller, and when that pianist happens to be Michelangelo Carbonara the formula is a winning one. Mro Carbonara, whom the Culture Magazine of the London Sunday Times describes as “pianist extraordinaire … he will become one of the greatest pianists ever”, will be giving a recital on Sunday 5 July. He will be coming straight from a hugely successful tour of Japan to take the audience on what he describes as a ‘Journey to Italy’, playing works by Platti, Busoni, Berio, Rota, and Rossini, amongst others. A chamber ensemble, this time from Norway, is the rare formation of Recorder and Harpsichord. Linnea Sundfaer Haug, accompanied by Lars Henrik Johansen will be performing on Sunday 6 July, playing music ranging from anonymous 13th century Italian pieces, to French music by Couperin, to contemporary works by Norwegian and English composers. Ms Sundfaer Haug is this year’s winner of the European Music Competition for Youths and her prize includes a concert in the Victoria International Arts Festival. Two very well-established ensembles are Ensemble Marino Marini and Ensemble4, from Italy and England respectively. This will be Marino Marini’s second participation in the Victoria International Arts Festival. This mature wind ensemble will be performing works by Joseph Vella, Beethoven, Poulenc, and Francaix. All the members of this famed ensemble are closely associated with the prestigious Accademia Chigiana, where they either teach or regularly give master classes in summer. London-based Ensemble4 is a clarinet quartet who will be performing on Tuesday 8 July. The ensemble has toured the world, both as performers and teachers. Their recital in Gozo will consist of works by Bach, Mozart, Farkas, Dubois, and contemporary Vella. Another interesting duo formation is the one performing on Wednesday 9 July. Hailing from Slovenia, Alenka Zupan on the Flute and Marko Feri on the Guitar will be playing works by Handel, Guiliani, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Dyens, amongst others. After last year’s high-powered recital by Daniel Veis, this year the organisers are thrilled to welcome him again, this time in trio formation with his wife Helena (pianoforte) and their daughter Barbora on the viola. Their recital on Saturday 12 July will consist of formidable works by Beethoven, Vieuxtemps, Martinů, and Brahms. All these concerts will be performed in the Aula Mgr G Farrugia.
It is the policy of the Festival’s organisers to present concerts by Maltese musicians who have made a name for themselves both locally and abroad. This year is no exception, with a host of performers once again taking centre stage at the Aula Mgr G Farrugia. Pianist Elizabeth Leonardi will give a recital of Russian piano music on Wednesday 11 June. Well-known pianoforte duo Natascha Chircop and Marco Rivoltini will be performing on Saturday 14 July. Their concert includes works Schubert, Debussy, and Rachmaninov. Guitarist Simon Schembri needs no introduction. Having lived for more than 25 years in France, Simon is a household name when it comes to the guitar repertoire. His concert on Monday 16 June includes works ranging from the Baroque masters Bach and Handel, to Spanish firebrands Sor and Tarrega, amongst others. After their wonderful concert last year, duo Sarah Spiteri (violin) and Alexander Vella Gregory (organ) will once again present a concert on Tuesday 17 June devoted to works by Telemann, Tartini, Corelli, and Handel. Well-known young soprano Gillian Zammit, accompanied by Rosetta Debattista, will give a recital on Friday 20 June. Gillian’s versatility will be in evidence in a programme ranging from lieder, to German, French, and Italian opera. Pianist Juliette Lopez will this year team up with Natalia Filipenko (Violin) and Yaroslav Miklukho (Violoncello) to perform works by Piazzolla and Rachmaninov on Sunday 22 June.
The Festival’s organisers’ main interest is to give as much exposure as possible to local, up-and-coming talent. This year, as in previous years, La Stella Youth Ensemble will present a concert of classical and semi-classical music on Thursday 19 June. On Tuesday 24 June, composer/pianist Stephen Attard will talk about and give a demonstration of his works in ‘The Composer Speaks’ series. This will be immediately followed by the very popular debutants concert, during which young up-and-coming musicians will be performing. This year’s debutants are violinist Deborah Caruana, pianist Michela Galea, saxophonist Philip Attard, soprano Claudia Tabone, and the Gozo School of Music Orchestra.
After an absence of four years, this year the organisers are once again offering what purports to be a spectacular evening of dance, being held at Pjazza it-Tokk on Friday 27 June. Alison White, with students from her Dance Studio, together with Charles Duca with his students from the Astra Theatre Dance School, will be performing The Journey. This will take the audience from the Secrets of the Sahara desert with creatures such as lizards and scorpions through to the tropics with snakes and tribes from the forests and finishes up at the Ice Kingdom in the Arctic with spectacular Ice Maidens and Penguins. Beautiful costumes have been specially made by Limelight, Ernest Camilleri and Lisbeth White. With choreography by Charles Duca, Lisbeth White, Jenny Vassallo, Sandra Mifsud, Daphne Attard, Jason Deguara and Alison White, this show promises to be truly colourful. An Art Exhibition, co-ordinated by J Attard, with paintings by up-and-coming artists from the Wistin Camilleri Gozo Centre for Arts and Crafts, will be mounted in St George’s Basilica cloister and inaugurated on Tuesday 1 July. This will be immediately followed by a vocal recital by established soprano Georgina Gauci, performing works by Tosti, Fauré, Mozart, Massenet, and Vella. She will be accompanied by Maria Frendo, who will also be giving an illustrated lecture on Oliver Messiaen to coincide with the French composer’s first centenary of his birth. This lecture will be given on Wednesday 18 June. Both the recital and the lecture will be held at the Aula Mgr G Farrugia.
This year’s Festival comes to a close on Monday 14 July, with a grand concert featuring the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra (leader: Marcelline Agius), under the direction of Prof Mro Joseph Vella. Czech virtuoso Daniel Veis, winner of the Tchaikovsky competition, will perform Dvořàk’s beautiful Cello Concert in B Minor. St George’s Laudate Pueri Choir (director: George J Frendo) will then perform Joseph Vella’s Domine Jesu Christe op 38, followed by Fauré’s Requiem, featuring also baritone Jaki Jurgec and soprano Maria Frendo. This concert will be held in St George’s Basilica.
The net beneficiaries of the VIAF have always been the local musicians, who are privileged with the golden opportunity of listening to world class performers, with the added bonus of mingling with them during master classes. In fact, the philosophy behind the setting up of this Festival has always been educational. This year’s master classes will be held in pianoforte, violin, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, saxophone, and percussion. These classes will be conducted by local and foreign tutors.
Entry for all concerts and cultural events is free. All concerts start at 8pm, except the one on Friday 27 June, which starts at 8.30. This year’s 11th edition of the Victoria International Arts Festival is sponsored by St George’s Collegiate Chapter, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry for Gozo, Good Causes Fund, MTA, Bank of Valletta, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Alliance Française, Air Malta, FXB Group, Gozo School of Music, Franciscan Sisters – Victoria, Sir Arturo Mercieca Primary School, Sliema Lions Club Arts Foundation, Victoria Local Council, San Andrea Hotel.
Victoria International Arts Festival